Simra Vacation

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Janaki Express train was standing for an inordinate time at Muktapur railway station. Summer vacation had started with schools being closed. Girdhari asked in a voice full of boredom, Sakri kab aayega (When will we reach Sakri) ? Bhaiya (elder brother) replied in equally bored voice, Abhi toh Samastipur se nikle he hain. Kuch khaaoge (We are barely out of Samastipur. Wanna eat something) ? Girdhari smiled, Sakri mein (I will, in Sakri). The steam engine spewed lots of black plume of smoke, hissed angrily like a dragon, whistled twice and began moving slowly out of the station. The train engine’s sound was remembered not just by Girdhari but by everybody those days, Chhakad ChhakChhuk, Chhuk, Chhakad ChhakChhuk, Chhuk. Train finally reached Sakri junction.

Girdhari found Sakri magical. It conjured up image of spellbinding allure for everybody. Sakri was famous for two things. First, it’s mouth watering KachriAaloo Chop combo of snacks. And second was that of Janki Express splitting into two trains. First five coaches of Janki Express were named Sakri – Jaynagar Express. Last five coaches belonged to Sakri – Nirmali Express. Bhaiya and Girdhari were seated in the 9th coach en route to Jhanjharpur. Girdhari finished the snacks quickly, drank water to his heart’s content. In Jhanjharpur R.S. (railway station) market, Bhaiya stopped a Taanga. Girdhari sat in the front. He could watch the mango orchards on both sides of the road and both the horses’ movement as well. All the mango trees were laden heavily with the king of fruits. Girdhari’s heart started beating faster. They were approaching the wonderland called Simra.  

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Vardhan, Appu and Neeraj ran towards the Taanga. Appu started patting the horse. Neeraj started clapping out of excitement while Vardhan was looking closely at Girdhari. All the cousins were around 8-9 years old. Vardhan dashed quickly to touch Bhaiya’s feet. Appu and Neeraj followed suit. Bhaiya looked sternly at Appu and said, padhna likhna saadhe baayis, kya ji Appu (no studying but playing all the time, Appu). Appu shivered in fear. They entered their Angna (a combined unit of four ancestral houses). Girdhari touched Dad, Mom and Didi’s (elder sister) feet. He washed his feet and reached Siraagu Ghar (the room for the divine deity). He kept a coin in front of the deity, Maa Bhairavi, closed his eyes and prayed. One by one Girdhari reached the other three houses of his Angna to touch all the elders’ feet. As soon as he came out of the fourth house, he found them waiting. Appu, Neeraj and Vardhan sprinted towards their Pokhar (pond owned by their family). All four of them stood at the corner, observing the Pokhar closely. The water level was down in the summer. Now, Girdhari was looking at the ancient Jaayith (high wooden pole in the centre of the pond) with four metallic birds rotating in circular motion on its top. They were waiting in anticipation. Girdhari said, Poorba bahaye chhaye (eastern wind is blowing) ! And Neeraj, Vardhan and Appu started laughing, as never before, on that hot May evening. It was an annual ritual with them. Girdhari had difficulty sleeping in the night in the Dalaan (Angnaa’s outhouse for guests and visitors), waiting eagerly for the dawn.

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In the morning, a visit to a mango orchard was due. Girdhari and his gang reached Pokhari Mahaar (bank of the pond). They plucked some twigs from a Babool (Gum Arabic) tree and bang started the community Daatun (brushing of teeth). They reached Labgochli mango orchard. The Bagwaar (caretaker of the orchard) offered them some cleaned, raw Fazli mangoes. He offered to cut the mangoes into pieces but Neeraj did the honours himself with a knife. These mango pieces were raw and unripened but they tasted sweet, nonetheless. The gang was now joined by Diggu, Raja, Udho and Nanhe from other Angnaas. One by one, they ran and jumped into the Pokhar. They were busy swimming and frolicking in the cool waters, losing sense of time. Bhaiya threatened them when they grudgingly came out of the water. It was breakfast time now. Kaaki (paternal aunt) served Diggu, Vardhan, Raja and Neeraj, ChooraAamAchaar (flattened rice with mango pulp and pickles) in a big brass plate. Appu, Nanhe, Udho and Girdhari attcked RotiDoodhAam (wheat Chapaties soaked in mango pulp and milk) served in a big brass plate. A Bamboo basket full of ripe Maldah mangoes was kept next to them.    

Girdhari and his boisterous gang of cousins got bored of reading old copies of kiddie magazines, Paraag, Nandan, Lot Pot, Champak, Baal Bharati, Chanda Mama and biographies of revolutionaries when they heard commotion inside. The girl gang of Minni, Leena, Shaivya, Julie, Bela and Ruchi were playing a game near Madba (a four pillored roofed structure meant for wedding and Puja). Appu, Neeraj, Girdhari and Vardhan joined their cousins in the game. They were playing while singing, 

Kosampaal Kosampaal

Daakiye ne kya kiya

Sau rupaye ki ghadi churaayi

Ab toh jail mein jaana padega

(What crime has the postman committed ? He has stolen a watch worth one hundred rupees. And now, poor fella has to do time in prison.) The players took a break in the evening, to take a quick bite of Choora Bhoonja and Ghughni (famous Bihari snacks). As they were catching up with each other, they heard the loud sound of the gong. The boys quickly washed their hands and mouths and ran towards the Radha-Krishna temple. They boys had a sort of competition to play the Gharighant (big gong bell) while the Pujariji (temple priest) was playing the ghanti (handbell) and doing the Aarti (worshipping the deities).

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Girdhari had no idea that a month had passed. He went to attend a wedding in Darima village and ended up staying for weeks in the house of his Mausi (mother’s sister) there. From Darima, a trip to his Maatrik (Mama/mother’s brother), Kamalpur was due. As it was, both the Mamas doted on Girdhari. Plus Kamalpur had several attractions ; Dhaar (small river), Gaachi (mango orchards), Haat (temporary rural market) and Manmohan bridge. Girdhari was always reluctant to return to his city. The return journey was painful and heart breaking. He wondered why couldn’t he stay back in Simra, forever.

Girdhari was sitting in his city school’s classroom. Kaun jawaab dega (who has got the answer), thundered Banmali Sir. Girdhari stood up and started confidently explaining how the great Maratha king, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj escaped from his house arrest in Agra. The whole class burst out laughing. Girdhari stopped to catch breath. Banmali Sir was watching him while the whole class was rolling in laughter. Was Girdhari wrong with his interpolation, no, certainly not. He began explaining again. This time Banmali Sir starting swaying with laughter on his chair. Girdhari was silent while looking miserable. Banmali Sir said while barely controlling his laughter, kya re Girdhari, tum jawaab Maithili Bhasha mein de raha hai, Hindi mein nahin (Hey Girdhari boy, why are you giving your answer in Maithili language instead of Hindi) ! Saare vidyarthi summer vacation mana ke July mein class me aa gaye. Aur tumhara Simra Vacation, har saal, September mein khatm hota hai (All the students resumed their classes in July after their summer vacation got over. And your Simra vacation gets over only in September, year after year) ! Girdhari smiled organically. Aah, the memories from his wonderland. Simra always brought smile back on his face. 

Photo by Sadhna Ranjan

 

Dog Whistle

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It was a great congregation of famous princes and mighty warriors in the great hall of King Drupad’s magnificent palace in the Mahabhaarat age, roughly five thousand years ago. Drupad was the king of Paanchal (modern Badaun and Farrukhabad districts in Uttar Pradesh in India) kingdom. Everybody was here to participate in princess Draupadi’s swayamvar (function related to a bride choosing her groom). All eyes were on Draupadi. Her brother, prince Dhrishtdyumn announced that a fish was tied to a revolving pole. The reflection of the fish was visible in a wide pan of water kept right under the pole. Draupadi would marry the warrior who shot the eye of the fish while looking at the reflection in the water. A quiver brimming with arrows and a bow was kept for this purpose. Most of the princes had failed in this competition. A young Brahmin dressed in white robes got up. He looked at the reflection of the fish below, aimed his arrow above his head, held his breath and shot. Arjun’s arrow had pierced the eye of the fish. Draupadi put her garland in Arjun’s neck. Just check the intensity, efficacy and result of Arjun’s concentration. He was looking down while aiming up ahead, successfully.     

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In recent Bengal assembly elections in India, Trinamool Congress leader, Mamata Banerjee had accused BJP leaders and their workers of being outsiders. Her supporters believed her as mass and seasoned campaigners of BJP are mostly from out of Bengal. Since a long time, BJP had consistently attacked Mamata Banerjee on infiltrators’ issue. They claimed that Trinamool Congress supremo and leaders had taken no action on illegal squatters coming from neighbouring countries. BJP’s supporters believed these allegations to be somewhat true. Dear reader, please notice that both the parties were attacking each other on ‘outsider’ issue. Tomorrow, on 2nd May, the whole country will know who won Bengal – the insider or the outsider !

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In political arena, to gain support from a distinct group, a fully loaded message or intended message is darted on another distinct group or community. This is called a Dog Whistle. This term has been extracted from farming or shepherding activities using ultrasonic dog whistles. Former United States president, Barack Obama’s political campaign in 2012, centred around an ad campaign, focussed on the message that his opponent, Mitt Romney was not one of us. In several elections earlier in the United States, George W. Bush, Hillary Clinton and others have been noticed dog whistling to their target communities.

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Dog whistling has been used subtly and in completely innocuous ways in some songs too. Pop superstar, Michael Jackson released his album, History in 1996. One number from this album was a chartbuster. Michael Jackson sang soulfully while crooning these words, All I Wanna Say Is That They Don’t Really Care About Us. Back home, in 1956 a Hindi movie, C.I.D had released. It had a gem of a ballad, sung by Shamshad Begum. And the track was, Kahin Pe Nigaahein, Kahin Pe Nishaana (aiming at ‘A’ object but targetting object ‘B’). Wasn’t Arjun doing the same thing, dear reader, at Draupadi’s swayamvar !

The Second Honeymoon

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He was busy with his sheaf of papers in front of them. She was looking completely bored. She asked him, when will we get out of this place ? He replied, not right now. She was looking keenly at the floral design on her Heena designed palms. She said, everybody goes on honeymoon and here we are, stuck at Mansoorganj. He replied, 98% of couples celebrate honeymoon inside their houses. 1% lie while promising it. And the rest 1% actually go there. And Rehana, this is the reality. The newly wedded wife still persisted, all my life I’ve seen taking flights off from my backyard. Today is 17th May, 2019 while we got married on the 1st. Can’t we even fly for our honeymoon, Altaf ? Altaf took her in his arms. He said, our second honeymoon, right ? Rehana blushed and hid her face.  

The taxi entered the airport premises. She was dressed in her bridal finery while he was dressed as the shy bridegroom.  It was a promise Altaf had given to Rehana. Rehana was looking at the ticket in her hand for 12th July, 2019 to Al-Buruz airport, Chashma. While Altaf was pulling the luggage trolley he saw her coming. He rushed towards her and said excitedly, Phoophi (father’s sister) why did you take the trouble of coming here ? You have only made our first flight and our first foreign trip possible. Roshanara smiled, ayehaye Beta, pardes nahi pardes mein honeymoon pe jaa rahe ho, tum dono (Son, both of you are going abroad for honeymoon). She pushed a sealed carton towards their luggage. Roshanara said, is mein Zarda (flavoured tobacco) hai mere Nandoi (husband’s sister’s husband) ke liye (It contains Zarda for my Nandoi). Altaf asked, where do I need to give it to him ? Roshanara smiled, tumhaare hotel se le lenge wo (he will collect it from your hotel). Roshanara kissed Rehana on her forehead. Both of them walked inside after showing their travel papers to the security officer.

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At 3 am on 13th July, the flight landed at Chashma’s Al – Buruz airport in Nakhlistan. As soon as Altaf and Rehana collected their luggage, a posse of airport security personnel surrounded them. Altaf explained that they had all the valid documents. The security team led Altaf and Rehana to a confined area. Everything was being videographed. They were told to open their luggage. A nervous Altaf opened his two suitcases and picked up each and every piece of item and showed it to them. Next was the turn of zarda carton. Altaf could not open it with his bare hands. The security officer handed him a knife and a cutter. When the carton was finally opened, the officers couldn’t believe the sight. The carton had no zarda. It contained Hashish (a recreational drug made from cannabis plant) and that too, all of 4.1 kgs (kilograms) of it. The security officer informed them that they were being arrested. A lady security officer held Rehana’s hand who had passed out.     

Altaf’s father, Ishtiyaq Nasimuddin reached Chashma on 2nd August to get his son and daughter-in-law released. Their case was being fought in a Chashma court. Altaf and Rehana tried their best to prove their innocence but to no avail. On 14th October 2019, Altaf and Rehana were sentenced to 10 years in jail plus a fine of 10 million Riyals in that drug case. Altaf informed his father that Rehana was carrying. Ishtiyaq didn’t know if he wanted to cry or smile. 

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The confusion all around confounded Ishtiyaq. On 22nd February, 2020, Rehana delivered a baby girl, Chaahat in the prison hospital in Chashma. Chaahat’s grandfather, Ishtiyaq had spent 15 excruciating months in the desert nation to fight his son and daughter-in-law’s case. He had spent all his savings and all hopes. It was time for watanwaapasi (journey to motherland).   

On 4th November, 2020, hoping against all hopes from his Mansoorganj residence, a dejected Ishtiyaq wrote two letters about the ordeal that his son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter were going through in the desert nation’s prison. He sent first letter to the PMO (prime minister’s office) and the second letter to the CBI (central bureau of investigation). The PMO forwarded Ishtiyaq Nasimuddin’s letter to the MEA (ministry of external affairs). The CBI forwarded the letter to the NCB (narcotics control bureau). The MEA contacted Nakhlistan authorities who said they needed proof to present in the courts. But where was the proof ? As expected, Roshanara had disappeared long time ago.  

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On 22nd November 2020, two drug carriers were nabbed near Attari border . One of them was a foreign national while the other one was a local. They confessed their links with Roshanara. NCB was informed about the matter. Police teams conducted raids at various locations. Multiple drug consignments were seized and drug carriers arrested. The prize catch, Roshanara was arrested from Bhairahwa border. 

In Chashma, Indian consulate officials met their counterparts from Nakhlistan with the new developments. They assured them of swift proceedings. The iron clad proof was presented in the desert court of Chashma by the NCB. The court absolved the couple of all charges on 24th February, 2021.

On 4th March, 2021, the aircraft landed at 2.30 am. Ishtiyaq along with other family members received Chaahat, Rehana and Altaf. It was a moment full of tears, kisses and a second beginning for Chaahat’s parents. It was time for a new journey.

Disclaimer : The above post is based on some real incidents, real characters and years mentioned. Only the names of people, cities, nations, dates and months have been changed. 

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Go Corona, Go !

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Dear reader, at the outset I apologise to you with folded hands, for not posting blogs for some weeks. Here is the whole story for you, as it started unfolding that afternoon, straight from the horse’s mouth !  

Am I or am I not ? This question troubled me. And more than myself, she looked agitated. Are we or are we not ? Both of us were  waiting for test results. The two of us felt like school kids, again, who were awaiting their final examination results. But this time, in parents’ roles, ready to console ourselves, if something unpalatable came in the reports. Here is my Corona Diary, dear reader, for you, unedited and raw..

24th March/2.30 pm : I was working on my laptop. She asked me the same question umpteenth time, hey listen, are you okay ? This time I got bugged. I said, my limbs are fine, my energy is full, my brain is ticking and I’m feeling good, need I say anything more ? She ran the digital thermometer across my forehead. I had temperature, yes. The screen was all red. Around 10 pm when I didn’t feel any better, I took one Calpol 500 mg tablet. After sometime my fever came down and I went to sleep.   

25th March/6 am : I had no fever but I was feeling extremely weak and had giddiness. These same health issues carried forward till the next 3 days. I recalled, I had this kind of weakness and giddiness after Typhoid, several decades back. In the night, I decided to get myself tested for Corona. It was 11.30 pm so this plan got pushed up for the next day.

29th March/11 am : My wife and myself, reached a Covid test centre being run by SRL Diagnostics. The technician asked me if I wanted an Antigen test or a RT PCR test. My wife and myself got tested through RT PCR test.

Photo by Mukul Ranjan

30th March/5 am : My wife’s report came negative. My report was on hold. I started wearing mask and self isolated myself in another room. In the meantime, I did my own little research on the damned virus ! A new virus, SARS-CoV-2 causes COVID-19 (Corona Virus – 2019) disease. There are several symptoms which may include one or others; fever, dizziness, headache, dry cough, Diarrhoea, weakness/fatigue, skin rashes, loss of smell and taste, muscle pain, nasal congestion, sore throat, vomiting (nausea), red eyes (Conjunctivitis), persistent chest pain, shortness of breath, loss of appetite. This disease spreads amongst people when an infected person breathes, coughs, talks, sneezes or sings. This infection takes place when particles carrying virus (aerosols or respiratory droplets) enter the nose, eyes or mouth of a person who is in close proximity of an infected person. The time span between exposure to virus to beginning of symptoms is 5-14 days. This is the reason Corona patients are advised self isolation for 14 days !  Amongst Corona patients, approximately only 5% need hospital admission, close to 80% get better at home and around 15% need ventilators for serious ailments. Dark clouds hover over people who are more than 60 years old and have any of these medical problems – cancer, on dialysis, high blood pressure, obesity, lung problem, diabetes, heart problems. The danger, dear reader, is that this rogue virus has been declared airborne now ! Okay, okay, let’s go back to my diary again.  

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31st March/10.30 am : A lady from BMC health department called me on my mobile, informing me that I’m COVID Positive. She said in an hour, a team will come to take my consent for home quarantine. I sent my Corona test report to my doctor. He suggested home quarantine and sent me the prescription. At 11 am, two ladies came from BMC health department. I signed on the consent form provided by them. My name with age and cell number and my doctor’s name with registration number was already there on the form. They stamped me and my wife. Our little boy, Nana created such a hue and cry, literally, that they didn’t stamp him. They stamped at my house’s entry too. And that is how my sequestration stint started.

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April Fool’s Day : I started taking medicines. My wife ensured that I took Kaadha (Indian hot herbal drink) twice, Haldi Waala Doodh (hot turmeric milk) after dinner and inhaled steam twice, in the morning and evening. In the afternoon, 2 BMC professionals arrived in PPE suits and disinfected the whole house.

Photo by Mukul Ranjan

2nd April/9.25 am : A man called up from BMC health department, asking me if I needed any help. He provided me the BMC Covid helpline number – 1916 and asked me to call immediately if my health worsened. He also told me that BMC has increased home quarantine duration to 17 days from the earlier 14 days. At 2 pm, a man called up identifying himself as a worker from a political party, working in the local MLA’s team. He asked me if I needed any physical, financial or emotional help. And if need be, I could contact him anytime. Boy, was I touched !

Photo by Mukul Ranjan

Moral of the Story : To tell you frankly, I did not enjoy my voluntary solitary isolation for the fortnight one bit, nope. I kept myself positive with optimistic thoughts. Watching sky became a hobby, almost. I was regular with my physical and spiritual sessions, though. I maintained my cycle of prayers, Praanayaam (Indian breathing exercise), walking for 30 minutes twice, rest and good sleep. I intentionally slept on my left side or lying on my stomach. 3 times reading of Pulse Oximeter, blood pressure, temperature and blood sugar was a given. I also used to conduct 6MWT (6 minutes walk test) twice with Oximeter. And I was provided healthy, nutritious and high-protein diet. No fried, spicy, non-vegetarian or spicy food for the patient. Chhena (curd cheese) was provided every evening. I drank lots of water to keep myself hydrated. I also had Chhaas (buttermilk) twice, at breakfast and lunch. To hydrate, one can also have Daab (coconut water), herbal tea and soups.     

Photo by Mukul Ranjan

Nana and a Stranger : Staying away from Nana broke my heart. If my door would be open, he would sprint quickly to hug me. And poor me had to force close the door. Nana used to claw, tap repeatedly and push the door while crying hoarse. But Nana’s heartless father would not open the door ! 

Be Positive : A Corona patient must consult his/her physician or family doctor (one with with MBBS, MD degrees). Patient must follow government rules and be a responsible citizen. Self-medication should be avoided at all costs by the patients. The patient should never listen to fake gyaanis (know all gurus) who have watched lots of Facebook, WhatsApp messages and You Tube videos. A COVID patient should not panic if any health parameter suddenly goes up or down. His/her doctor should be informed immediately. Everybody who is eligible for vaccination should get vaccinated, without fail.

Thrills & Chills : My blood pressure occasionally shot through the roof. My headaches would try to split my skull into pieces with great force. My blood sugar readings would surprise me every day with erratic readings. Serum Creatinine test results were living nightmares. My appetite went down several notches ,considerably. My Oximeter readings gave me the deadliest scare. For 15 – 20 seconds, no readings would appear on the screen. And sometimes, the readings would stay around 63 for some time before settling finally to 98, phew.. !  Back to the concluding pages of my diary.

14th April/11.45 am : I got myself tested again through RT PCR test.

Photo by Mukul Ranjan

15th April/4 am : I got to know that I was COVID negative, now. At 10.30 am, a technician arrived from a private company and disinfected the whole house. My doctor gave me the fitness certificate.

16th April/3.35 am : Realisation sunk in that I’m clean now, finally. I survived to tell this tale. Nana came running, hopping and jumping with joy when I threw open my arms for him. I started wearing 2 masks; first the use and throw mask and on top of it, a cloth mask whenever I opened the main door. And, I intend to continue wearing double mask if I go out of my house too. Currently, I’m having long COVID hangover which means my headache, giddiness and loss of appetite will continue for months as explained by my doctor. 

Post.Script : I am grateful to the God up there, my doctors, the pathological test lab technicians, BMC health department professionals, all the Mynahs, Crows, Parrots, Sparrows and Pigeons who cheered me up from my window. My large family and all my friends who used to call me up regularly to keep my hopes alive. I am thankful to Nana for banging on my closed door everyday to tell me that he is gonna wait for me. And she, Nana’s mother, who also happens to be my wife, Sadhna. The silent but stronger individual who kept Nana, me and herself going valiantly, in this tough and uncertain phase. Dear reader, Maverick Yogi wishes you a safe weekend and a Corona free world, ahead.  

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It’s A Holi Holiday !

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Hack.. Humph.. Hack.. Humph.. Each strike of axe on the thick piece of log was making Jeebu sigh out weird sounds. A big bundle of log pieces was arranged by Jeebu. Girdhari was not satisfied. He said, Jeebu, aur dahi kani (add some more). Jeebu replied, hau baabu, aab ta hum apna ke cheerab takhne purtaye (listen, I need to cut myself into pieces for that) ! The sound of vocals and Dholak (double headed hand drum) was coming clear now, Jogira Sa Ra Ra Ra.. Jogira Sa Ra Ra Ra.. Jeebu, followed by Girdhari ran towards the main door. A group of young men, was sitting that evening, outside Girdhari’s house. Hey, wait, there was a woman too. Girdhari looked closely at the woman. She was singing and dancing while two men were playing dholaks. She sang while covering her face with veil, Kaahe Waaste Raja Rootha, Kaahe Waaste Raani, Jogira Sa Ra Ra Ra.. Jogira Sa Ra Ra Ra.. (Why did the king throw fit and why did the queen throw tantrums). A man got up, started dancing and pulled the veil of the woman away. The woman under veil was a man with thick moustache. Girdhari got shocked. Everybody started laughing. The man was singing on the beats of the dholak now, Raaj Waaste Raja Rootha, Sej Waaste Raani, Jogira Sa Ra Ra Ra.. Jogira Sa Ra Ra Ra.. (The king threw fit for kingdom and the queen threw tantrums for bed). Everybody got up and started dancing. Holi (famous Indian festival) was some days away but everybody was in festive mood. Girdhari offered them five rupees and Jeebu gave them, Pakodas (Indian snack). The group left singing and dancing, merrily. Spring’s arrival is celebrated as this festival. On Holi, people thank mother nature for good harvest and keeping their farm lands fertile. But there is another fascinating story behind Holi. 

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Here is a Puraanik (From Puraan) tale connecting the origin of Holi festival with Bhakt (devotee) Prahlaad and his aunt, Holika. According to a story in Bhaagvad Puraan, there was an asur (demon) king called Hirankashyap. He was blessed by God Brahma with five boons. First, he could not be killed by a human being or an animal. Second, he could not be finished, either indoors or outdoors. Third, his end would not come, either at day or at night. Fourth, he would not die, either at land, air or water. And the fifth one was that, nobody could harm him by Astra (launched weapon) and Shastra (handheld weapon). Hirankashyap ordered everybody to worship him and not god Vishnu. He used to torture and kill people who worshipped Vishnu. Whole humanity was in great fear of the hugely unpopular but seemingly invincible king. Hirankashyap’s son and prince, Prahlaad was a big devotee of God Vishnu. His father used to torture him physically but no harm used to come to Prahlaad, blessed as he was by Vishnu. Finally, Hirankashyap convinced his sister, Holika to sit on a burning pyre with Prahlaad in her lap. She was blessed to be fireproof. Surprisingly, Holika burnt to death while Prahlaad walked out of fire, unharmed. Finally, an exasperated Hirankashyap made his soldiers heat an iron pillar. The iron pillar turned red due to the heat. Hirankashyap asked Prahlad to embrace this red hot iron pillar. The whole crowd, watching this live macabre scene, got shocked. Prahlad took two steps towards the pillar when the pillar’s centre gave way and… Out walked a weird creature whose lower half had a man’s body and upper half had a lion’s body. God Vishnu had arrived in Narsingh (half human and half lion) avtaar (incarnation). First boon was nullified. Narsingh picked up a surprised and scared Hirankashyap to the doorstep. So it was neither indoors nor outdoors. It was dusk time which is neither day nor night. Narsingh made Hirankashyap lie on his lap. This was neither air, water or land. And finally, Narsingh killed Hirankashyap by opening his stomach with his long lion claws. As lion claws are neither a handheld or launched weapon.    

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In Indian villages and cities, Jogira and Holi songs are sung, several days before Holi. But the Holi mood is set on the night before Holi. This night is known as Holika Dahan. On the city squares and village chowks (squares), a wooden pyramid is erected of bamboo, hard cow dung cakes, discarded furniture and other wooden items. Fresh farm produce and snacks are poured in this pyramid by womenfolk. A senior citizen lights fire to this wooden pyramid and an aura of bonfire is created. This Holi bonfire symbolises burning of evil and impure thoughts.  

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Holi is essentially a festival of celebrating Holi Milan (meeting of people on Holi), greeting and hugging friends, neighbours, celebration of great camaraderie, fun and frolic. It also ushers in the mood of letting bygones be bygones. Young girls and boys vie with each other to play Holi with new Bhaabhi (brother’s wife) and Jeejaji/Paahun (sister’s husband) in towns and villages. From morning till afternoon, people throw coloured water (Rang/Gulaal) and apply colour on each other.

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During this rainbow festival, people take break only, to partake famous Indian Holi delicacies as Dahi Wadaa, Pooran Poli, Gujhiya, Malpua. Drinking Thandhai (cooled Indian drink of milk mixed with saffron, cardamon and other Indian spices) is a given on the day. Some adventurous people mix Bhaang (cannabis extract), in the snacks or Thandhai, to have that proper Holi feeling. After scrubbing themselves clean, people wear new clothes, smear dry coloured powder (Abeer) over each other’s faces and on the feet of elders to seek their blessings.       

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Braj region of Uttar Pradesh, celebrates Holi, in a unique way. Holi is celebrated in Barsana and Nandgaaon as Latth Maar Holi. Men sing Holi songs in Brajbhasha dialect, inviting female attention. And women hit these men with long sticks while singing Holi songs in Brajbhasha. These men, under attack, use shields to protect themselves. A huge number of people and foreign tourists gather, to watch this unforgettable Holi spectacle.

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Holi is known as Hola Mohalla in Punjab, Phaguwa in Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh, Doul in Assam, Ukkuli in Konkan, Dhooli Vandan in Maharashtra, Dola in Odisha, Dulhendi in Uttarakhand. Holi is played with Yaosang festival in Manipur. Abroad, Holi is celebrated in Nepal and Pakistan. It is celebrated with great fervour as Phagwah in island nations as Fiji, Mauritius, Guyana, Suriname, Indonesia, Trinidad and Tobago. 

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Girdhari’s group was playing Holi with great gusto. Holi songs from Hindi flicks were being played from all the houses. Girdhari was sitting on the steps, watching the whole hullabaloo with amusement. But his mind was hung up on the song that Bhaiya (elder brother) had played on his walkman last night. The song, It’s A Holi Holiday by a pop band, Boney M created sensation when it was released in 1979. In one of the stanzas they sang, What A World Of Fun.. For Everyone.. Holi Holiday.. It’s A Holi Holiday.. It’s A Holi Holiday.. Bhaiya had laughed aloud when poor Girdhari said this song was meant for our Holi festival. Girdhari smiled when he remembered Bhaiya’s face. Suddenly, somebody poured coloured water on Girdhari’s head and applied colour on his face. Girdhari made a face and looked back. It was Naveli Bhabhi smiling while saying, Bura Naa Maano Holi Hai (please don’t mind, it’s Holi) ! She along with her group was leaving Girdhari’s house. Girdhari smiled back at her. Here is, Maverick Yogi wishing you and everybody in your family, a delicious, aromatic, colourful and sumptuous Holi ! 

Father’s Quota

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I knew she was looking at me, intently but I kinda ignored. I was immersed in listening to a gem of a Hindi number, Jeevan Ki Bagiya Mehkegi, Lehkegi, Chehkegi.. Khushiyon Ki Kaliyaan Jhoomengi, Jhoolengi, Phoolengi.. (Life will whisper, blush and smell like a garden.. Happiness will float, fly and bloom as buds.) Hey listen, we have not yet planned anything for it, she said. I replied, can we discuss it after this song gets over, please. She was in no mood to listen. You’ve been playing this song, on loop, since afternoon. You better stop and listen to me know, she huffed. I want you to be there when it happens, no reasoning and no excuses, okay ? She was done. I said, okay, let me figure it out. I’ll do something, promise.  

My group in my office was ready for the mash up game. Prabhakar was smiling when he said, I knew you were different but this different, impossible. I was busy attacking the Idlis (an Indian snack) on my plate. Gurkirpaal acted philosophical, marriage turns men into mices – I’d heard this before but this steep fall, Girdhari, my friend, history will not forgive you. I said, all around the globe, men do it. I’m not the first one on this planet to repeat it. Now, come on. In fact, you guys should felicitate me for this feat ! It was Saahir’s turn now. Said he, trust me, I will write about your achievement in Reader’s Digest ! I finally asked them, so should I or shouldn’t I ? The three buggers cried in unison, NO… 

Yes, Girdhari, I called you for a huge news, Alex looked excited. I said, Alex, I need a little favour from you. Alex said, let me finish first. Do you remember, last December you had discussed that native wrestler concept ? Well, smile Girdhari, Udit has approved it. I have got the budget sanctioned. Take your crew, fly to Karnal on 25th and shoot the beefy grapplers ! You’ll be directing your baby. I didn’t shuffle and sat still like a monk. Alex was puzzled, all okay, dude ? I said, I had told you my wife is carrying. Yes, I remember, replied Alex. I said, well, the doctor has asked her to get admited in the hospital on 25th for the delivery. Alex was happy, that’s great news. So, no worries, the crew will be shooting the scenic and atmospheric shots of Haryana till the time you reach there on 27th. Two days leave granted without you actually asking for it ! I said firmly, I need a month’s leave as paternity leave ! What leave, come again Girdhari, asked Alex. Paternity leave…  Alex was aghast, have you smoked weed or what ? I swear, I have never heard of anyone taking paternity leave here, in this company. And what will you do with it, change soiled diapers ? What the flick, man ! I replied, Alex, do you know that a team of researchers at Harvard found out that fathers who had availed of paid parental leave had very strong bonding with their newly born babies. Japan and South Korea offer 1 year’s paternity leave to men. I’m only asking for I month’s leave ! Alex cried aloud, stop it, man ! I’m gonna get cardiac arrest right now !     

Dear reader, in not so distant past, men had the role of being bread earners while women had to take care of kitchen, old and children, not necessarily in that order. How the roles have reversed and for the betterment of everyone. Now women go to work, earn their salaries and take pride in being equal to men. But there is one aspect where women are superior to men. They give birth to children. And they need to take proper care of babies when they are small. And the new mothers need all the support ; mental, physical as well as emotional, at these vulnerable times, especially from their menfolk !    

The father’s quota is a policy implemented by companies in Nordic countries that reserves a portion of the parental leave or other types of family leave exclusively for the father. Father’s quota or daddy quota or more poularly, paternity leave was introduced first time in 1993 in Norway. In 1999, the government of India issued a notification enabling male employees of central government to take 15 days off to take care of their children and wives. And that is how I became a pillar of strength for my wife and a role model for other would be fathers !

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The Night Of Nirvaan !

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Bam Bam Bholey.. Jai Shiv Shankar.. Bam Bam Bholey.. Jai Shiv Shankar.. The little boy was still chanting though his eyes were closed. Bam Bam Bholey.. Jai Shiv Shankar.. Bam Bam Bholey.. Jai Shiv Shankar.. He was fanning the idol with the little bamboo fan in his hand. He heard some noise. He opened his eyes and looked at the sleeping people. The whole group of women and children was asleep, on the floor, in the pujaghar (prayer room) in the huge house. It was the night of Maha Shivraatri. The women were fasting since early morning and were tired. The little boy looked closely at the idol again in the dim light of the lamp. There.. he found the culprits. Two big rats were eating the prasaad (sweets) kept in front of the Shivling (idol of God Shiv), hungrily. Bam Bam Bholey.. Jai Shiv Shankar.. Bam Bam Bholey.. Jai Shiv Shankar.. The little boy was chanting and fanning while looking at the naughty rats, in amazement. One rat started climbing up the Shivling. Bam Bam Bholey.. Jai Shiv.. The boy stopped the chant. The rat was sitting on top of the Shivling and eating the big laddu (Indian sweet) kept there. The boy shook his mother awake. She asked, what is it, Moola ? Moola replied, Maa (mother), look that rat is sitting on top of our Shivling. Moola’s mother asked, so what ? Moola said, if God cannot keep himself safe from a rat then how can he save the universe ? Maa admonished Moola. She bent down to prostrate in front of the God, in fear. Decades later, Moola grew up as Mool Shankar whom the whole world now remembers as Maharshi Dayanand Saraswati. This Maha Shivraatri incident from his childhood and other such experiences later encouraged him to establish, Arya Samaj in 1875, in then Bombay. 

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Maha Shivraatri is celebrated with great gusto in all Shiv temples across the globe but especially in Neelkanth Mahadev Temple in Uttarakhand. During samudra manthan (churning of ocean) in SatYug, Halaahal poison was produced which God Shiv drank but withheld it in his throat, at this location. This poison was so toxic that it turned Shiv’s neck, blue. Hence, Shiv is called Neelkanth (blue necked). This temple is 32 kms from Rishikesh in Uttarakhand.  

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Maha Shivraatri has various beliefs associated with it. Maha Shivraatri is celebrated faithfully by unmarried girls wishing for an ideal husband like God Shiv. And, married women pray for the safety and welfare of their husbands. Maha Shivraatri is celebrated as the auspicious night of Shiv-Gauri vivaah (wedding). Gauri wished to have Shiv as her husband. But Shiv was reluctant. So Gauri did penance for several years, worshipping Shiv all these years. Shiv was pleased with her penance. And that is how Shiv agreed for this marriage. Gauri Kund in Uttarakhand’s Rudraprayag district is the location where Gauri did penance and Shiv blessed her. Gauri Kund is the base camp to reach Kedarnath by trekking or by riding a pony.

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The wedding of Shiv with Gauri was performed in SatYug at Triyuginarayan temple in Uttarakhand’s Rudraprayag district. In this wedding, God Brahma was the priest while God Vishnu was the main witness. Gauri’s mother, Maina was not happy at Shiv’s appearance and members of the baraat (bridegroom’s associates). Shiv was dressed in tiger-skin, ash smeared all around his body, matted locks and serpents circled around his neck. Shiv’s associates consisted of bulls, birds, animals and creatures as half animals and half humans. Mahakavi (great poet) Vidyapati  has written about this episode in his famous song – Hum Nahi Aaju Rahab Ahi Aangan, Je Boodh Aanal Jamayi (I won’t stay in this house till the time this infirm son-in-law is present here). Vidyapati wrote these lines :  

Bhanayi Vidyapati Sunu E Mainaayin, Dridh Karu Appan Giyaan..

Shubh Shubh Kaye Shiri Gauri Biyaahu, Gauri Har Ek Samaan..

(Vidyapati says, listen Maina madam ! Remain steadfast in your thoughts. Please bless Gauri’s marriage now. As Gauri and Shiv are not two entities but one).

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Nepalese army celebrates Maha Shivraatri as Army Day in Tundikhel, Nepal. Local Hindus in great numbers visit Umarkot Shiv Temple in Pakistan to celebrate Maha Shivraatri. In countries like Suriname, Trinidad, Fiji and Mauritius, the devout offer Belpatra ( Bel leaves), fruits, milk, white flowers, honey and coconut to the deity. They spend their time in Shiv temples doing meditation, prayers and offering holy water to the Shivling while chanting aloud, Bol Bam, Bol Bam ! 

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Maha Shivraatri is considered the night when Shiv did his ferocious Taandav dance in SatYug after his wife, Sati killed herself by jumping in fire. This happened due to Sati’s father, Daksh Prajapati constantly insulting Shiv. Shiv was looking dangerous as he was holding Sati’s burnt body in his hands while performing Taandav dance. To save the humanity from Shiv’s wrath, Vishnu cut Sati’s body in small parts with his Sudarshan Chakra (wheel). Wherever each of these body parts of Sati fell in Akhand Bhaarat (Indian sub-continent), a Shakti Peeth temple stands today. So Shakti Peeth temples are associated with Maha Shivraatri too. 

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Dear reader, at several places in India, you’ll find this line written on walls, banners and hoardings – Shiv he Guru hain (Shiv is the first Guru) ! It is believed that Maha Shivraatri is the night when our adiyogi (first guru) brought down his level of consciousness to match with mere mortals on planet earth. Tantra considers that, at this plane, the mind is easily surpassed. The param yogi (ultimate yogi) rises above the limits of time, space and occasion. Maha Shivraatri is called the night of Nirvaan (eternal liberation). This is when the yogi achieves his target of Shoonya (ultimate bliss) ! Om Namah Shivaay ! Om Namah Shivaay ! !

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Privacy Goes For A Toss..

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He looked visibly angry and truly so. Ramavtaar Sir (Hindi teacher) had asked the question, Deewaron ke bhi kaan hote hain matlab (What is the meaning of the famous Hindi saying – walls can hear too) ? In all earnestness Girdhari had replied, sir, iska matlab hai, Deewaron ki aankhein nahi hoti (well sir, it means, walls don’t have eyes ) ! Alok and Rajesh 3 were smiling while their other classmates were stunned. Ramavtaar Sir looked deep into Girdhari’s eyes and said, Re dharti ke bojh, Hindi kaksha mein yahi seekhta hai, aayen (Oaf, is this what you learnt in my Hindi class) ? It got uncontrollable for Alok and Rajesh 3 now. They started laughing aloud. Girdhari spilled the beans. Girdhari said, sir, three of us had decided this earlier. Whenever Ramavtaar Sir was going to ask the meaning of this Hindi saying, Rajesh 3 would reply that walls don’t have a nose. And Alok’s reply would be, walls don’t have brains !       

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Dear reader, think about it, we are living in the age of no privacy, literally ! In ancient India, guarding privacy was encouraged by higher echelons. In popular parlance it has been understood since ages that women shouldn’t reveal their age and men, their income. Ancient texts have mentioned that matters related to family, worship and sex should be kept secret, at all costs. Earlier spies were assigned particular tasks by their kings but eavesdropping was not one of them.

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It was the age of India’s first war of independence in 1857. And it was started by a great hero, Mangal Pande in Barrackpore, now a suburb of Kolkata. Subduing Mangal Pandey was second, on the list of, to do list of the then British rulers. It was the first which flabbergasted and foxed them, completely. It was called the Chapati (Indian Flatbreads) movement. The humble Roti (Indian Flatbreads) used to travel to hundreds and thousands of kilometres to every corner of India. These rotis were carried by soldiers, postmen and cops alike. It is said that these rotis were distributed by the patriots across the length and breadth of India to prepare everybody for the 1857 movement. Several times British officers got these rotis opened and dissected in great detail under their own supervision. They did not find anything inside, incriminating !  

This paranoia of the then British officials encouraged them to read telegrams, postcards and other postage in the Akhand Bharat (Indian sub-continent). With a stroke of success, hither and thither, they finally attempted tapping the telephones of native Indians. And our fates were sealed, for worse. 

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From telephones as a medium of communication to the handy pager, the age of innocence was in continuation. In the early 90’s, Frank Canova, an engineer with IBM and his team worked successfully on world’s first smartphone – Simon ! And our world ; each one of us, took a 360 degrees turn. 

With mobiles came, text messages (SMS), Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Tik-Tok, Koo etc. Smartphone has led to itching fingers syndrome, quietly. Excessive dependence and usage of mobile phones causes several diseases like nomophobia, cell phone elbow and text neck amongst others. Nomophobia means being afraid of being without a mobile phone or in simple words, no mobile phobia. When you move your neck ahead, in order to bring them before your shoulders, to text a message it is called text neck menace. In, cell phone elbow disease, prolonged stretching of one’s elbow, to keep the mobile phone close to one’s ear, causes pain and numbness in hand or forearm !

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Dear reader, shouldn’t we call this era – ‘instant era’ ? Somebody writes something or puts up pics on Facebook, trigerring a fusillade of likes, emojis and comments. A news item (or fake news) arrives on our screens and everybody is busy reacting with tweets, koos and writing on Facebook. Hello, whatever happened to terms like restraint, self-control and rethink, fossilized for history ? A niggle turned into a festering wound in the same way a pet turns into a man-eater ! 

What about our right to privacy ? This is one of the most oft repeated questions being asked everywhere. On this globe, Germany has the most stringent data privacy laws, right now. As for our Adhaar (Foundation) of privacy in India, a nine judge bench announced in 2017, that right to privacy is a congenital part of right to life and individual freedom, under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

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On his walkman, Girdhari was listening to a popular Hindi ballad, Dheere dheere bol koyi sunn naa le, Sunn naa le koyi sunn naa le (Speak in whispers else others will know). He was trying to find the real meaning of these words when he remembered, suddenly. On the western wall of the central hall of his alma mater, C M S High School, it was written prominently – quick to hear and slow to speak ! Smile came on Girdhari lips when he remembered how Ramavtaar Sir had explained the meaning of that famous Hindi saying which Girdhari had messed up royally that day. Ramavtaar Sir had asked everybody to be careful before speaking or writing because words once spoken or written don’t remain secret, anymore. Since that day Girdhari has always believed that, privacy goes for a toss whenever one opens one’s mouth, to speak !  

THE TWITCHER

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The thirst was getting unbearable. There it was, a pitcher. People keep water in pitchers, thus spake the thirsty. The crow looked inside the pitcher. Yes, at the bottom there was some water. But his strength was giving way. The crow looked around and eureka, there were some pebbles around. Problem solved. All of us have read this clever story from Aesop’s Fables. What else these birds are up to ? Are they friendly or scared of humans ? These and more questions were answered by one of Goa’s famous green activists who is a a bird watcher and guide cum boatman – Uday Tukaram Mandrekar !     

Photo by Uday Mandrekar

It happened that Day : Uday, a boatman in Goa’s Chorao island helps tourists in sighting birds. He begins his extra-ordinary tale. He says, I studied in a Marathi medium school. That day in 1990, I was waiting for ferry to reach school for my tenth exams final paper. A foreigner couple from England, loaded with telescope and cameras was waiting there for somebody, who could guide them to a place to watch the birds. I showed them a crow sitting on an electric pole. The couple laughed aloud at my naivety, opened a book and showed me the pictures of the birds that they wished to see. I took a fisherman’s canoe, rowed and took them to the other end of the river. They found so many birds there that they were amazed. Later on they sent many tourists to me from abroad. And that is how I got on a boat to sight the birds !  

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Aquatic Hero : Tiny little fiddler crabs or calling crabs live in holes in the mud. To breathe they come out of their holes. With plastic garbage filling these holes, fiddler crabs meet slow death. Do you see that ? I have kept a long metal rod in my boat. At the time of high tide, I collect plastic bottles floating in water through this rod and a wide net. I collect all this garbage in a bag and dump it in the garbage bin when I reach sea shore, without fail. 

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Birds, of Feathered kind : I collect leftover chicken organs like legs, beaks etc. from a chicken-mutton shop and place them in my boat. A bird arrives and takes its feed followed by other birds. I keep prawns in a corner of my boat. A Kingfisher arrives inside my boat and eats the prawns. My job depends on these birds. I take people to show them birds. I should take proper care of these birds, no  ?  

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Mangrove Saviour : Mangroves are our friends. There are 12 or 13 types of mangroves. They are mostly present in salt water. One particular type of mangrove, Avicennia Marina starts bearing fruits during rainy season but in sweet water ! Plastic and polythene bags are thrown by people in the sea. I try to convince people not to throw plastics and garbage in water. These plastic and polythene bags entangle and cover the roots of mangroves, under water. This hampers oxygen intake of mangroves ! Roots dry up, killing the mangroves.

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Come to Chorao : Chorao is the Portuguese name of this quaint island. This island along the Mandovi river in Goa is the largest amongst Goa’s 18 islands. Its 5 kms (kilometres) away from Panaji. Chorao is famous for its Portuguese villas, churches, rice, mango, jackfruit, cashew and Dr. Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary etc.  

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Spot the Birds in Animal Kingdom : Storks, Asian Openbills do nesting here. Cattle Egret don’t come near the sea. They live on farms, perched atop buffalos and cows. White Tern, River Tern, Sea Tern, Sailing Duck, The Brahminy Kite, The Western Osprey, Whimbrel, Kingfisher, The Ibis are found amidst the Wild Otters, Saltwater Crocodiles (Muggar) and Crabs.  

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The Boatman : I had a canoe made from mango wood earlier which I used to row with an oar. I have two gasoline run fiber motor boats, now. One accommodates 15-20 and the other 30-40 people. 

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Athithi Devo Bhavah (Tourists are Gods) : From October to March, I have tourists coming from England, America, Finland, France, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, South Africa, Spain, Germany, Japan and other nations. 

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Uday’s Favourites Sutra :  Favourite Colour : Red  

Favourite Season : Winter 

Favourite Dishes : Chana Masala, Daal, Pickle, Crabs, Prawns, Oysters

Favourite Hobby : Loking after my father’s shop

Photo by Uday Mandrekar

Favourite Books : Dr Salim Ali’s books on Birds / Russian Books

Favourite Destinations : Shirdi / Mumbai / Kolhapur / Shani Shingnapur

Favourite Idols : Mahatma Gandhi / Swami Vivekanand

Favourite Singers : Nitin Mukesh / Suresh Wadkar  

Favourite Actors : Sunny Deol / Amitabh Bachchan / Nana Patekar / Dharmendra 

Favourite Movie : Sholay

Photo by Uday Mandrekar

That was not Funny : At 2 pm on 26 December, 2004,  I was on a boat ride with tourists. High tide suddenly hit us. Lots of fish started flying above us. Suddenly my boat got stranded in mud as water had disappeared all of a sudden. My tourists started laughing and enjoying the whole process of high tide turning into low tide. I got everybody safely back on the shore. When I saw TV later that day, then I discovered Tsunami had hit us !

Award received : Kala Akadmi Puraskaar, 2017

Film made on Uday Mandrekar : The Birdman Of Chorao 

Photo by Uday Mandrekar

The Professional : As a guide I try to work with honesty. If they wish to see Kingfisher, I take them to Kingfisher. The duration of my boat ride is fixed at 90 minutes but most of the times it crosses 2 hours, busy as I am with, detailed explanations and taking them to more places than mutually decided ! 

Uday Tukaram Mandrekar

Contact Details of Uday Mandrekar :

Contact Numbers : +91 9822583127 /  +91 9021918613

E-Mail : udayingoa15@gmail.com

udaymandrekar76@gmail.com

Proud Moment : My father was unwell for some time. I was awarded a prize for working for the environment. I felt so happy that I spoke to my mother on phone. My father and everybody else felt so proud of me. 

Photo by Uday Mandrekar

Our people should welcome tourists with open arms. Locals should provide top notch service to tourists. Everything should be done in fair and transparent manner for their satisfaction. Dear reader, when you are in Goa next time, don’t forget to meet this birder. Uday as a guide is an unlikely person to think of dangers to aquatic and avian world. But working tirelessly for the betterment of the environment, round the clock, he deserves all the kudos to be declared as a Green Hero !

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If You Want To Be A Cartoonist, Live The Life Of A Cartoonist !

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Little Girdhari was playing with his spinning top. Usman Chacha (uncle) was seen riding his bicycle. Before he could stop near their house, Bhaiya (elder brother) pounced on his goodies. Didi (elder sister) arrived there. Bhaiya and Didi started tug of war with the fresh issue of Dharmyug (famous Hindi weekly) magazine. Bhaiya had already opened the cartoon page. The famous cartoon character, Dhabbuji was the bone of contention between the older siblings. Girdhari felt miserable and tears started rolling down little boy’s cheeks. Usman Chacha smiled and handed over a fresh issue of Bahadur comics to Girdhari. Bhaiya smiled and handed over Dharmyug to Didi. Bhaiya himself started rummaging through the stock of the hawker. Dear reader, this love story between the readers and Bahadur and Dhabbuji started then and it continues now, unabated. Maverick Yogi couldn’t thank his stars enough when he met the doyen of Indian cartooning and creator of Dhabbuji, Bahadur, Inspector Azad, Shuja, Doctor Chinchoo and several other memorable comic characters – Aabid Surti Saheb, now in his 80’s yet with full of joie de vivre !  

Photo by Drop Dead Foundation

Flash-Back : Aabid Surti speaks softly as he goes into flash-back mode. He says, I had an abnormal childhood. I never got time to play kiddies’ games. The whole effort was on contributing to family’s finance. My mother used to work in people’s houses. Paying school fees was a big tension. I never had the luxury to play marbles, spinning top or fly kites. 

First Cartoon : Aabid Surti remembers his tough childhood as if it happened in recent past. He continues, I joined a kiddie beggars’ gang. Around the time of second world war, ships used to arrive at Apollo Bunder in Bombay. A toy train used to run between Apollo Bunder and VT station (now Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus) to ferry the passengers. Our kiddie gang used to run along with that toy train. All of us used to shout at the train passengers, sir please give us one dollar, sandwich, apple etc. The soldiers used to throw at us whatever was in their hands. Sometimes a lollypop, a half eaten sandwich or a pack of biscuits used to land in our hands. That morning, a soldier threw a comic book at us from the toy train. Our whole kiddie gang pounced on that book in anticipation of a dollar or pound, hidden inside the book. Somebody got three pages, another one the cover while I got one page. It was a Mickey Mouse cartoon. In my house, I copied the whole page and voila, I had made my first cartoon !

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KhariKamai Day : As a small boy I was in Scouts. Once a year we had a ‘KhariKamai Day’ to instill respect for labour and manual work. A boy scout used to make a flower out of handicraft materials and that day he had to sell it in the market to a customer. Another boy scout used to sit as a boot polish boy. On that ‘KhariKamai Day’, I was dressed as a boy scout with cap and whistle and was carrying 2-3 cartoons made by me. I went inside the newspaper editor’s cabin and put up my cartoons on his table. He looked at my cartoons and smiled. My first cartoon was published in The Times of India newspaper ! 

Photo by Drop Dead Foundation

Dhabbuji Redux : Dhabbuji was carrying one Kg (kilo gram) chicken from a mutton-chicken shop. An eagle swooped down, snatched the chicken packet and sat on top of an open terrace. Dhabbuji started dancing on the chowk (market square). Onlookers found this weird. Somebody asked Dhabbuji why was he dancing. Dhabbuji replied that eagle was a damnfool. It took the chicken away alright but Murg Mussallam recipe was with him !   

Photo by Drop Dead Foundation

Pioneer of Transparent Painting : Aabid Surti wanted to break the traditional painting style. The idea was to put that transparent painting in the centre of a hall as a wall, dividing that hall into two. So, people from both the sides could see that painting. When hung on a window – outsiders and householders both could see it.

Photo by Drop Dead Foundation

Founder of First Comic Syndicate in India : Aabid Surti says, there was no comics syndicate in India those days like they had Walt Disney, Superman and other such comics syndicates abroad for marketing. I along with Pratap Mullick and Anant Pai created the first comics syndicate of India, Rangrekha Features Private Limited. I was the director of the company. 

Photo by Drop Dead Foundation

Inventor of Mirror Collage : In Rajasthan, Aabid Surti discovered that women used to stick two mirrors on the walls of their houses and they used to make images of peacocks, butterflies and birds on those mirrors. I did first mirror collage exhibition in 1969 and it was a total sell out ! After the third exhibition I stopped, otherwise I would have turned into a one man factory !

Photo by Drop Dead Foundation

Bahadur is Born : The Times of India group through Indrajaal Comics used to publish Phantom, Mandrake The Magician and other comics those days. To create an original Indian comic character, they were on the lookout for an artist who could write too. I requested for a month to create it. Dacoits (bandits) of Chambal valley were all the rage those days. Tarun Kumar Bhaduri’s book, Abhishapt Chambal (Cursed Chambal) became my guide-book. I travelled extensively in Bhind, Morena, Etawah, Gwalior districts for detailed research. And thus was born, the Bahadur !      

Photo by Drop Dead Foundation

The Compliment – Aabid Surti considers this as his biggest compliment. During his Satsang, when Osho Rajneesh (famous Indian philosopher) noticed that his Bhakts (followers) were getting distracted or feeling drowsy, he used to say, let’s see what Dhabbuji is saying this week. He used to take out the latest issue of Dharmyug from under his cushion and narrate Dhabbuji’s antics. Bhakts used to laugh. He had their concentration back, and how !

Cartoonists under Siege : A cartoon should make you laugh and guide you too. A political cartoonist should stay within the limits of decency. A political cartoon should be like a mirror where that politician can recognise himself, bass (period). 

Photo by Yolanda Sun on Unsplash

Difference between Dhabbuji and Common Man of R K Laxman : Aabid Surti laughs uproariously and says that there is no comparison, actually. Laxman’s famous character is  a common man whereas Dhabbuji is an uncommon man ! Both the characters are poles apart. Common man is a silent observer while Dhabbuji would get either his own leg broken or someone else’s in the bargain.  

A common man with an uncommon man : Photo by Pratyush Ranjan

Aabid’s  Favourites Sutra : Favourite Colours : Green, Blue – Both are colours of peace and harmony !

Favourite Artistes : Mohammed Rafi/ Pandit Ravi Shankar/ Ustad Allah Rakha Khan

Favourite Season : All seasons are same to me – Gifts of God !

Favourite Actor : Balraj Sahni

Favourite Hobbies : No time left for hobbies, now ! 

Favourite Renditions : Aaj jaane ki zid naa karo by Farida Khanum 

Hum dekhenge, Laazim hai ke hum bhi dekhenge by Iqbal Bano

Favourite Dishes : Dum Biryani and Tundey Kabaab of Lucknow

Favourite Movie : Anand

Photo by Drop Dead Foundation

Favourite Destinations : Kumaon Valley – Nainital, Pindari Glacier, Bhimtal, Tallital !

Favourite Film maker : Akira Kurosawa

Favourite Book : Charitraheen by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay

Favourite Cartoonists : Mario Miranda / Abu Abraham

Favourite Cartoon Strips : Mutt & Jeff 

Favourite Idol : Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose  

Aabid on ABID : I was doing one of my Mirror Collage exhibitions in Colaba’s Taj Art Gallery in the Taj Hotel. The iconic and celebrated film maker, Pramod Pati was planning to make a film on M F Hussain those days. Hussain Sahab was tremendously busy at that time. In that exhibition, Pramod Pati saw my mirror collage works and people’s tremendous response. He expressed his desire to make a documentary film on myself. I said, I am honoured ! He asked me to write the script for the film too ! I gave him an idea of a painter leaving his paintings for the world after his end. Pramod Pati immediately approved it. He decided to make this documentary with pixilation technique. ABID was released in 1972.    

Photo by Drop Dead Foundation

ROFL : Aabid Surti smiles when he narrates this anecdote. In a remote, secluded rural area of Morena (in Chambal valley, Madhya Pradesh), I missed my last bus in the evening. A police constable had missed that bus too. So both of us waited for another vehicle till 11 pm in the night. No luck for us. So, both of us decided to sleep, one after another. The cop slept for a couple of hours on the grass and I sat alert on the nearby boulder while holding his police gun, on vigil !   

Aabid Surti

Contact Details of Aabid Surti :

Website : http://www.aabidsurti.in

Contact Number : +91 9820184964

E-Mail : aabidssurti@gmail.com

Dear reader, when one is a kid, nature and supreme powers devise a way to hold that kid’s hands in order to prepare him/her for the journey called life. 3 senior citizens : a psychiatrist and photographer, Dr. R. J. Cheenwala, a painter called Yusuf Dhala and Mushtaq Jaleeli, a  screenwriter became three angels for kid Aabid. Aabid Surti himself strongly believes that whichever profession one wishes to work in, one should join the same profession or else one won’t get permanent happiness. And this view of Aabid Surti is stamped by non other than the famous cartoonist and author, Oliver Gaspirtz in his quote : If you want to be a cartoonist, live the life of a cartoonist ! 

Photo by Drop Dead Foundation